“The Debt I Owe”
Acts 21:15-36 NKJV
James was the recognized leader of the Jerusalem church. Paul is coming under his authority giving him a detail account of his missionary efforts.
We find out in ch. 24 that Paul had brought a collection for the Jerusalem church, as a sign of unity
James tells Paul of the rumors of him and how it has produced hostility in the Jewish people, and so he offers a solution- purify himself according to Jewish custom
Paul, submitting to James’ authority, thought it a good thing to become like the Jewish believers in order to bring unity among the gentile and the Jewish converts.
What exactly was James concern?
1.It was not a salvation issue, both men agreed that salvation was in Jesus alone and not in the keeping of the law, but for matters that were not sin; it was a means of unity
2. It was not about Paul teaching that circumcision was not necessary for salvation, but about what Paul was teaching the Jews who live among the gentiles
3. it was not about the moral law, but about Jewish customs
In a word, should Jewish believers continue to observe Jewish cultural practices? Cultural practices were a nonissue if one believes they are saved by grace.
EX: There is a long history of church tradition. It is a nonissue to say the Lord’s prayer or recite the Apostles Creed, as long as one does not believe that those things are what saves you. Advent, etc. these are customs and traditions
Paul agrees to shaving his head, as a Nazirite vow and purify himself in the temple:
1. join four others in purification rites
2. Paul should pay their expenses
Paul submitted to James authority- there was an agreement in doctrine and ethically, but a concession in the area of practice.
The purification ritual fell under “matters indifferent” and a truly emancipated spirit such as Paul’s is not in bondage to its own emancipation.
It was not a quid pro quo, but a sensitive mutual Christian forbearance for the sake of unity
Paul then is accused falsely by the Jews ironically, that this should be the charge against Paul at a time when he himself is undergoing purification so that he would not defile the temple.
The question then is: why would Paul put himself through all this agony?
Paul was a debtor.
Romans 1:14 “I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. 15 So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. 17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”
What does it mean to you?
1. It is God who works in you.
v.19 Paul reported what God had done through his ministry to the gentiles- not what Paul had done with God’s help.
Did you know that the apostle Paul changed his own name? (Paul being the Roman counter part for Saul) Saul was a regal name meaning “asked for”; Paul means “little one”
Paul never wanted to get the glory for himself, but all glory was for Jesus.
Galatians 2:20 New King James Version (NKJV)
20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
Can you say this? Can you say that Christ has taken over and He lives in and through you? That you have been crucified and died to all your own ways, thoughts and desires? Have you given up your right to your own self will and independence?
Whether or not you have died to your self, will show who you give credit to-
It begs the question, do you take credit for things? Or do you give credit to the Lord? It is the difference of “look what I have done” v. “look what the Lord has done!”
Romans 13:7 New King James Version (NKJV)
7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
Revelation 4:11 New King James Version (NKJV)
2. You are to seek unity in “matters indifferent” v.23
The above was the message Paul was relating to the Corinthian church:
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 New King James Version (NKJV)
19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the [a]law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without [b]law toward God, but under [c]law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became [d]as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.
People use this scripture all the time to justify acting like the world- that’s not what it’s about.
Paul never went into an idolatrous temple and worshiped with the idolaters to reach them, but he did go to public places where they congregated.
Paul was so submitted to Christ, that he humbled himself in order to reach others in matters indifferent. Why would he do this? Because he was not rebellious. He was a debtor to Christ. He cared not for himself but about glorifying Jesus and honoring the church. He was about seeking the lost and uniting believers.
Acts 20:24 New King James Version (NKJV)
24 [a]But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my [b]race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Paul was submitted. v.26
Why can you not just submit?
Ephesians 5:21 New King James Version “ submitting to one another in the fear of [a]God.”
Paul didn’t argue with James- he just submitted and did what James suggested in order to bring unity among believers
Here’s what I do not understand- Christians are not supposed to be autonomous people. We do not self-govern. We are to be governed by the Spirit and the Word of God.
If I go to another church that requires I wear a dress, who cares? Just submit to the authority of that church.
EX: my home church in TX, I visit, I wear a dress. I am a debtor. “By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life”. One of my first lessons in humility was, “obedience is better than sacrifice”. I am responsible for my obedience to authority and my leader is responsible for their leadership. Period.
If you are asked to speak at another church, you should submit to the authority of that pastor and stay within the guidelines of what he asks of you.
EX: when I speak at other churches or women’s event, I ask “what do you want me to preach?” What should I wear? Do you want an altar call? I am a debtor
If you do not like Amanda’s song choice, or Amber’s curriculum, who cares? Just submit. If you have a suggestion, by all means approach them in a respectful way.
Who’s it about anyway? You? Or Jesus? If it’s about you, then it’s not about the Church Body
James 3:16 New King James Version (NKJV)
16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.
Paul did not seek his own way, but in every way possible, he sought to obey Christ. He was a debtor.
We are under no obligation to submit to anything that goes against God’s law-
Daniel 3:16 New King James Version (NKJV)
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.
Their principles were settled and well understood. They answered without hesitation, but they did it in a respectful manner, not reviling Nebuchadnezzar, using no reproachful words of contempt, nor did they complain about being treated unfairly or severely.; they had no need to go into vindication of their conduct.
We are to seek and keep the unity of the church.
Ephesians 4:1-3 New King James Version (NKJV)
4 I, therefore, the prisoner [a]of the Lord, [b]beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
I have to warn people- if you destroy God’s holy church, you will fall under His judgment
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 New King James Version (NKJV)
16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.
This is not about the individual, the writing in the Greek is of an architectural image. The church of God is no longer viewed as a company of separate individuals, but as one massive foundation-pillar, supporting and displaying the glories of redemption.
Paul emphasis is on the entire congregation of believers as the temple of God and the dwelling place of the Spirit. The church is Christ’s Body, we are members of His Body, Stones in a Temple, Citizens of a Kingdom, Sheep in a flock. Jesus said,
Matthew 16:18 NKJV “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not [a]prevail against it.”
Jesus’s mission was to not establish a personal relationship with individual people who have no relationship with each other; instead it was a building of a called out community of people called the church. The church is not one individual, but many. There seems to be an overemphasis of feeding people with preaching that is causing them to be self-oriented. It’s all about them, their God, their time, their season, and their thing. Their Christianity becomes self-focused and self-absorbed. THIS is the opposite of Paul’s example. Paul was a debtor.
To the Corinthian church, Paul presents one of the strongest warnings in the NT to anyone responsible for defiling or corrupting a local congregation, or group of congregations. God Himself will punish that person/persons with terrible ruin and eternal death. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) read again “If anyone”
People corrupt the congregation through: engaging in immorality, fostering lies, deceit and selfish ambition, sowing divisive seeds of discord, promoting false doctrine and rejecting Scriptural truth, accepting sin and worldliness into the Body.
Instead of building up- these corrupters destroy- “IF ANY MAN”
Romans 14:19 NKJV “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may [a]edify (build up) another.”
Ephesians 4:16 NKJV “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying (building up) of itself in love.”
3. You owe a debt. Paul did not care even about his own life. v.31
This concept of being a debtor, one who owes, one who is obligated, and one who must do something seems like a hard thing to reconcile for those who claim they are under no obligations under grace.
When a person receives a revelation of the true grace of God they come to realize they are a debtor to Jesus for all that they are and have. It is a debt of gratitude for all the benefits received. It is not a debt to pay for grace for then it would cease to be grace. It is a debt of acknowledgment to benefits received,
1 Corinthians 4:7 New King James Version (NKJV)
7 For who [a]makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
What do we have that we didn’t receive? We cannot pay for our salvation but what more does God have to do than what He already did in Christ for us? He doesn’t owe us but we are indebted to Him with a debt of lifelong gratitude.
Romans 12:1 New King James Version (NKJV)
(notice Paul doesn’t say, “present your heart”, but your physical body to a lifetime of worship and service)
I am a debtor.
This attitude of being a debtor is a key to being a grateful person. Ungrateful people carry a chip on their shoulder that someone owes them or life owes them.
Sometimes when people have mistreated or disrespected us we can feel people owe us or we deserve better than what we have been getting from people.
No one deserves ill treatment and disrespect but God’s way to deal with it is to release people, forgive them, and not allow it to make you bitter.
It is good to have our heart established in the fact that Jesus paid the price for us which entitles us to all things we need in life whether people do right to us or not, whether life has been good to us or not.
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